Birhanu wins for second year running at virus-hit Tokyo marathon

TOKYO (AFP) – Birhanu Legese of Ethiopia won the virus-hit Tokyo marathon reduced from a mass participation event of 38,000 runners to just elite athletes yesterday because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The race, which doubled up as a trial for Japanese athletes hoping to run in their home Tokyo Olympics later this year, was limited to 200 participants including wheelchair racers.

Legese won his second successive Tokyo marathon in 2:04.15 with Bashir Abdi of Belgium second in 2:04.49 followed by Sisay Lemma of Ethiopia 2:04:51.

“I’m very happy,” said Legese, who crossed the line 33 seconds quicker than when winning last year.

“The time is good, although I’d thought I would be able to run faster. But today was a bit windy and my pace in the early stage of the race was not very good, so I accept it,” he said.

Lonah Chemtai Salpeter of Israel won the women’s race in 2:17.45 ahead of Ethiopian runners Birhane Dibaba and Sutume Asefa Kebede in 2:18:35 and 2:20:30 respectively.

The Tokyo marathon is one of the biggest sporting events to be affected by the coronavirus in Japan, with the Olympic Games opening ceremony less than five months away.

Last week, the International Tennis Federation said Japan’s home Davis Cup tie against Ecuador in Miki next weekend will be played behind closed doors.

The Japanese Football Association has postponed all J-League matches until March 15.

The International Olympic Committee said last week it was “fully committed” to holding the 2020 Games in Tokyo as planned, despite the widening new coronavirus outbreak.